Wednesday 5 August 2015

Daytime Bike Lights

This article appeared in yesterday with a large variety of comments underneath, precisely why they write in this thought provoking manner!

So, should riders have a rear light on all the time? It would seem like a sensible idea, another bit of added safety measure, what's not to like?

I notice a lot of people answering "yes" in the comments section. And a number repeating anecdotal events "proving" it works. Or even go into bold and largely unproven statements. A number of these comments also give a clue as to the riders normal riding experience. It would look like a large number are hardcore road riders, likely to have a good road bike, wear lycra, use helmets, and buy in to all the gadgets you can get for the bike. That's their hobby, the part of their life on which they'll spend money.

What about the ordinary rider, one just going to work or school every weekday morning? One simply using a bike as their transport. Someone who's not likely to want extra stuff for their "precious machine". It's not their hobby, just a way of getting around. Their bike is subsumed into their overall style, not the other way round.

So, my thoughts....

There are two types of "compulsion" that have similar levels of effect, of trumping out any evidence-based decision making. Legal mechanisms is the obvious one, but also emotional blackmail is another less obvious and more insipid form. "Just do it", "think of your children", "it's for safety's sake" are all used in these arguments in a neat way of avoiding any real information about the effects of whatever it is being suggested. This additional "safety tip" fits into the latter.

The issue of the slippery slope, in this country in particular, is that we makes safety the responsibility of the victim and not the one responsible for creating the danger.

On QI, Jeremy Clarkson, no less, said the best road safety device was to remove all seatbelts and put a big spike in the middle of the car steering wheel. That way the driver would be so concerned about their own safety they'd never impinge upon anyone else's outside.

The same piece pointed out that whilst seatbelts made a great safety improvement on people in cars, it had a detrimental effect on those not in cars. More people were KSIed outside of cars as average speeds went up as it had less effect on those causing the higher speeds.

We keep lessening the risks for those responsible for creating the danger, not those facing it. And this has been happening on the roads for as long as they've been around, with each time it happens it goes though a process.

  • Initial proposal. Proponents, sometimes with a benefit to gain (like Trek/Bontrager here), suggest a new thing. Some people see it as removing responsibility from the risk giver and challenge the safety aspect.
  • Those with budgets (and something to gain) keep pushing it, and it gains traction against those who've nothing but their sense of the importance of "responsibility".
  • Institutions take on the new idea and run with it. Eventually it ends up being legally or emotionally supported.
  • Some years or decades later it's taken as read that the idea is an important part of safety, not to be ignored or challenged.

To illustrate this, how about the need for lights on bikes at night. This is a legal requirement and you'll find very few people across the whole cycle advocate spectrum that'll disagree with it.

However, when bike lights were first proposed, many riders opposed it. They had a simple reason: it was the responsibility of the driver to see where they were going and ensure that they were not going to drive into anybody or anything. They suggested it was the drivers responsibility to drive safely.

Then it was taken through the above stages. Now, no-one would fight it.

We do have a number of people ride around without lights in Cambridge. Whilst I'd never join them, when I drive at night, especially at 20mph, I do notice that if I'm paying attention to what I'm doing, then I do see them.

One of the biggest ironic statements from those with anti-cycle sentiments is:
  • "Look at that bloody cyclist, no bloody lights, they'll never be seen."


  1. I'd never ride around without lights at night; but if you're not into spending a large amount of money on the lights, and have budget ones, batteries don't last forever. I can't see the point of daytime lights other than, as you say, as a blame-shifting device.

  2. Me neither, Liz. And they are cheap and easy to find. I was just using it as an example of how through history we shift safety issues away from those causing them. We'd never think of bike lights like that now, and yet, decades ago, it was. Much like this issue could be seen in decades from now!